Concorde II, Brighton, UK (November 7, 2002)
So, the boys are back in town, and you won't catch them in finer fettle right now. They're blazing a trail that, quite simply, puts all the competition to shame. Prior to 1999/2000, what was once a dormant cell is now an active unit again. The guitars were never decommissioned—they merely laid in wait until the time was right to press them into service again (these protracted sabbaticals are perhaps the secret of Wire's longevity...)
And boy, have they chosen their time well to re-enter the fray, in the current post rock climate where the old reliable guitar-bass-drums format is being reinstated, re-evaluated and re-energised in what might tentatively be called a late '70s/early '80s revival. Though revival is the wrong word, as it suggests nostalgia, a yearning for the days of yore, before technology changed things... but now technology has caught up, and it's possible to work quickly and intuitively, there's not the same old dichotomy between analogue and digital.
Wire have capitalised on this recently, by shooting out a series of able missives in the form of the Read And Burn series—dispatches from the front, short sharp shocks, burning bulletins—the raw power of their gigs channelled and contained by the computer, sliced and diced, chopped and filleted, digitally marinaded, whilst still maintaining the vitality, the punch; heightening it, in fact, throwing it into high relief, to produce songs with a harsh, bright, metallic feel—a machine tooled sound. There's no getting bogged down in the technical minutiae that dogged their late '80s/eary '90s records, where the process was exhausted (and exhausting), leaving the product overcooked.
Now it's come full circle, and Wire have returned to their original modus operandi, a pared down, essentialist approach. Therefore, it's not insignificant that they chose to call their website Pink Flag, as it clearly signalled their intentions for future development, suggesting their first LP as a touchstone, a benchmark.
Before Wire came on-stage, whoever was DJing certainly set the tone by playing a bunch of old punk faves: The Ramones, The Undertones, PiL, even Spizz Energi for chrissakes ("yes it was true, as we went warp factor two..."). Then the stage went dark, and the low pulsing that characterises the beginning of 99.9 began. Colin strolled onstage with a lyric sheet, followed by the others, weilding searchlights that combed the crowd. A powerful statement. Wire are here. Pay attention.
The set progressed briskly through most of the material from Read and Burn 01 and 02, and one from 03. Colin—quite animated for the most part—was clearly enjoying things; Graham also—his movements a more sinuous counterpart to Colin's head bobbing. Clearly, their atoms were excited. Robert and Bruce formed diametric opposites to the others; Robert hardwired to the beat, never slipping for a moment, seemingly distant with characterstic eyes closed, yet utterly engaged, an unstoppable force, anchoring the whole with unerring precision. As usual, Bruce is side-on to the crowd, unmoving, zen like, with what seems like an expression of total contempt, while his guitar sends out deadly dust clouds, sonic shrapnel that lacerates the air.
Don't expect verbatim renditions of what's on the EPs (but then, is that the point?), as these songs live are like hurtling juggernauts, being shaped and held by the dynamics of speed. So things are, obeying this logic, bound to 'wobble'. The songs are more roughly hewn, delivered with a desperate urgency, awash with adrenalin, formed by experienced hands that keep the essential forms intact. (Though the tuning on Germ Ship seemed a bit strange). What balances out the rough edges is the sheer energy of the performance, and the sense of absolute engagement as they throw themselves headlong into the songs, playing with the energy of men half their age. This is an incredibly infectious part of the live experience of the music; you cannot fail to be affected by it. Wire, like some gravitational force, are velocity captors, strange attractors, a force to be reckoned with... Vitesse! Vitesse! With such finesse! This is what makes the chopped endings of their songs so effective. I'm thinking here of Ist Fast—it stopped as though a guillotine sliced it. During The Art Of Stopping, Colin used the mike as a slide on his guitar, whilst bending over to sing in to it at the same time. Hilarious.
Unsurprisingly, it was quite loud, and a bit bass-heavy. Though live sound is rarely perfect, as there's so many variables at stake. I swear to God my eyeballs were wobbling in their sockets. But then that's hardly surprising given that I was right next to the bass bins as I snapped lots of shots. I suppose I should count my blessings and be grateful for the fact that I didn't involuntarily s—— myself.
The set ended with I Don't Understand, and Wire left the stage to thunderous demands from the heaving happy horde for an encore. Of course they weren't going to be disappointed, as Wire came back and did thumping versions of Reuters, Advantage In Height, Pink Flag, and, surprisingly, Mr Suit, which, I must confess, I didn't recognise at first. "Thank you Brighton," Colin said before exiting. Thank you, Wire! Then it was over. They were gone for good now. The lights came up. The records filtered quietly back through the PA. It left me reeling, totally energised. Electrocuted, I was transformed. All in the art of stoppng? There's no stopping these guys! Well, let's hope not anyway. My God, they're so gifted—a heaven-sent musical event.
Photography: Fergus Kelly